Early last week on the back of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy being shortlisted in almost every category on the BAFTA Film Awards Longlist (which can be viewed over here! ) and the home release coming up soon. I had the pleasure of being invited along to a BAFTA screening of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and QA session with Producers Tim Bevan and Robyn Slovo, writer Peter Straughan and production designer Maria Djurkovic – taking place at Working Title Films, and I have to say it was a thrill just being in the building never mind the frank and informative discussion that followed. The QA gave me some insight into decoding some of the enigma of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Particulary interesting bits from the talk were Writer Peter Straughan discussing his writing process of adapting Tinker Tailor for screen which is like a master-class for writers and Production Designer Maria Djurkovic gives us insight into the design of The Circle. Between them the motif of a circular maze that permeates Tinker Tailor is slowly revealed.
Other highlights from the talk include: Producer Tim Bevan on the inception of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Producer Robyn Slovo on when she became involved in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tim Bevan on finding the right Director and why Tomas Alfredson was the right choice, Writer Peter Straughan on getting involved in Tinker Tailor and working with Tomas Alfredson, Robyn Slovo on choosing the right Production Designer, Tim Bevan on the pressures of making an intelligent film that is profitable, Peter Straughan on the process of adapting a complex story for screen, on hidden easter eggs and the Harry Potter speculation, Tim Bevan on the casting of Gary Oldman and Tim Bevan on the status of the Tinker Tailor sequel.
If you read The Establishing Shot you’ll know that I am a huge fan of the slow boiling Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In fact it is my top film of 2011 with its top tier performances and visually stunning & rich tapestry of subtext. In a world of fast food and everything needing to be spelt out it is a stunning and rare pleasure. Each frame composed like an art piece hinting as to what is actually happening under the veneer of the scene.
This was my third viewing and to be honest I maintain that Tinker Tailor needs to be seen more than once to be fully comprehend and taken in. Each time I see it I understand more about it. This third screening allowed me to look past the elements that had previously stunned me – which are outlined in my reviews of Tinker Tailor here and I was able to focus on other elements like the incredible performances from Toby Jones as Percy Alleline, Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux and David Dencik as Toby Esterhase, all simply breathtaking. The art design which is inherently tied into the rich vision and subtext that comprises the Tinker Tailor experience as well as deconstruct some of the visual clues and beautiful and tragic subtext that Director Tomas Alfredson leaves like a bread crumb trail to be followed. I know believe that you can identify the mole early on by reading the clues, but I remember from my first screening that there was just too much to take in to make a guess with any certainty, but the clues are definitely there.
It also allowed me to lingeringly revel in the sublime finale of Tinker Tailor. I have previously highlighted a scene where Gary Oldman’s George Smiley tells the story of a meeting that he once had with a Russian agent as a staggering scene. But this has now been superseded by the ending of Tinker Tailor. The visuals and music crescendo in both a release from the preceding two hours of tension, as well as a celebration of a stoic and long suffering characters vindication and triumph. And as far as I am concerned it also the opening scene of the next film in the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy series.
After this screening I have a deeper admiration and comprehension for Alfredson and Writers Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan’s vision for Tinker Tailor. And although it may be early days for the Auteur, with only two features to his name, but a trove of TV work him I am now hanging to see his next film. As directors with his level of vision are in short supply. As a side note – Writer Peter Straughan has another faster intelligent espionage thriller out called The Debt it’s also in my top 10 films of 2011 and highly recommended.
Sadly the downside to this third viewing is that my adaptive path through the films tropes, idioms and symbolism needed deeper signs of the emotional connection between the close team of The Circle, past the key relationships. It would have been interesting if the groundwork for all the characters relationships were a little more expanded upon. But then again everyone’s a critic.
After the screening the stage was taken by noted film journalist Anwar Brett who was to host the QA session. He welcomed to the podium Production Designer Maria Djurkovic, Writer Peter Straughan and Producers Robyn Slovo & Tim Bevan. I have to say that this session was entertaining, frank and unusually insightful in decoding some of the mystery of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
PRODUCER TIM BEVAN ON THE INCEPTION OF TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
Anwar Brett : Tim, I believe the idea of re-adapting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came from another Peter? (Meaning not writer Peter Straughan)
Yes! Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Hereafter). Well, Working Title had be looking for a Cold War movie we didn’t think of Tinker Tailor mainly because it had been done before so we had a bit of a blind spot but Peter Morgan approached us and it sounded like a good idea.
I had the good fortune of knowing one of John Le Carré’s sons and we went to see if he was up for re-visiting the book as he already had enormous success with both the novel and TV series.
And he was, he was very open to it. He hadn’t read the book in many years and said something like
“Yea its quite good and if you do make a movie, then please make sure that it is true to the spirit of the book but has its own life.”
We came away and Peter Morgan developed a draft script simplifying it a lot. That was one way of going and not particularly a route that we or John le Carré wanted to pursue. It wasn’t until Tomas got involved that it took on a life of its own.
PRODUCER ROBYN SLOVO ON WHEN SHE BECAME INVOLVED IN TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
Anwar Brett : Robyn, my understanding is that you became involved early on as well?
I became involved just after Peter and Tomas. Tim got the core creative team together just after Tomas declared an interest in the idea of doing it. And as a collective team we started developing the script from that point on.
PRODUCER TIM BEVAN ON GETTING THE RIGHT DIRECTOR FOR TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY INVOLVED
Actually prior to that - Tomas found us. We had explored the idea with a few British Directors who were nervous of the piece mainly because of the preceding Tinker Tailor television series. Thankfully they didn’t become involved as I think Tomas’s journey - that of some one who is very smart through material that they are not familiar with, that journey of discovery, becomes the journey of the audience through the film.
PRODUCER TIM BEVAN ON MEETING TOMAS ALFREDSON
Anwar Brett : Tomas was presumably still basking in the glow of the success of Let the Right One In at this point?
Yea. He couldn't really even speak English. He moved into the building (Working Title Films), came upstairs and sat down and didn't say anything. I said:
So what about the vampire movie?
(Mimicking Tomas’s voice) I was bullied at school.
Ok! (Trying to make conversation) and what about spies?
Well, mmh the tough guys from school, they were the soldiers. The spies they were the nerds.
And I thought, that was as good as reason to give to someone the films as I had ever heard. So he got the gig. And his English got a lot better.
I think one of the things that sets this movie apart, all joking aside, is that Tomas is one of the better Directors working today, he is an absolute genius and he has an absolute forensic eye for detail in what ever area he is working in, so whether it is working with; Peter, Maria, the cinematographer, the editor, Robyn that he raises the bar of that forensic detail to such a high level. That’s why he can create this world which we can become completely absorbed in because there are no faults in it every detail is magnificent and that is the joy of watching the movie.
Maria Djurkovic : Also, I found that his degree of visual literacy was such a shorthand so we cut the crap that we usually go through when presenting ideas.
Tim Bevan : Interestingly normally when starting a picture we sit upstairs and reference other films and the first thing Tomas did was ban that and said no other movie will be referred to because we are making this movie. You can refer to any other art form you wish but you are not to refer to another movie.
WRITER PETER STRAUGHAN ON GETTING INVOLVED IN TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY AND WORKING WITH TOMAS ALFREDSON
Anwar Brett : Peter you and Bridgette got involved soon after with your take on the material?
Yes. We both knew and loved the book and I must have seen the TV adaptation when I was younger I didn’t remember it, so we watched it again once. It was a bit scary it is a hard adaptation to do. We said that if there were any hints of car chases or if it was modernised – we wouldn’t do it. But we probably would have any way. But it was very clear from the beginning that it would remain true to the spirit of the book.
And we liked Tomas from the beginning; he wasn’t at all what we expected he was odd and very likeable. And came at things from another angle. Using methods like - If Tinker Tailor was a fairy tale what Fairy tale would it be? One day he came in with a chess set and said let’s talk about if the characters were chess pieces which would they be? I remember initially thinking that it was a bit theatre, but it was very useful and freshened the whole process up as you get used to working in a certain way in film and you end up with studio notes. He doesn’t work that way, it was nice and in fact the chess pieces made there way into the film.
PRODUCER ROBYN SLOVO ON CHOOSING THE RIGHT PRODUCTION DESIGNER
It was actually very difficult for Tomas to find the right Production Designer for Tinker Tailor. We probably saw between 12-14 Designers which is a lot -but design is so important for Tomas. For weeks Tomas discussed a circle within a circle within a circle concept for The Circus. I’ll never forget for the first proper design meeting we had with Maria, Tomas, myself and some of the crew went to the warehouse at the Mill Hill Location where we built The Circus. And Tomas started discussing his circle within a circle idea. And after Tomas left I asked if Maria if he knew what Tomas was talking about and she said – yep. And I thought OK over to Maria.
PRODUCTION DESIGNER MARIA DJURKOVIC ON DESIGNING THE CIRCLE
Anwar Brett : Maria your working relationship with Tomas is crucial as once you had Peter and Bridget’s script in your hand you had to work out how to bring some of it to life visually. And I know that one of the key creative decisions was to describe The Circus for the camera; can you tell us how that came about?
Yea, Tomas had this notion that there was this outer core to the building and within that an inner core. So we sort of had this contrivance which is the Edwardian building that is the exterior of The Circus which was a location complimented with CG and then this great brutalist 60s lump in the middle and that was the inner circle.
Within that block there were the different floors. The fifth floor, the top floor, is the centre and at the epicenter of that was the conference room.
So Tomas had this notion (that within the huge warehouse we were shooting) about offices being individual blocks within the space and in the middle of all the blocks there was a super block, that was the Conference Room. And it had to in some way to stand out and be the most secret space of all so we started to think along those lines.
Well, we were briefly shooting at this bizarre place and there was this very odd little security office which turned out be a 70’s portacabin and I thought that was interesting and we could it as a motif for the offices.
Tomas really liked that idea and that brought us to the concept of The Conference room and what it could be, the most secret of all spaces. So I was exploring the notion of what could make it really secret and had the idea of the sound proofing foam. I liked the idea because it worked on several levels; it made complete logical sense that this space was so secret - so it’s surrounded in sound proofing foam. And I knew that it would also be a striking visual and quite a bold one as you have 360 degrees of this stuff and a single picture, window or anything else to interrupt it. And that is how the concept of The Circus offices came about.
Tim Bevan : This is an area that in terms of John Le Carré telling us to make your own movie was absolutely fantastic because when he looked at it you could see in his face – well that it wasn’t like that at all but I’ll go with this. In fact the BBC rendition was closer to what it was like - boring offices and corridors. He completely honoured his original words of go make a movie. And to give him his credit he absolutely 100% embraced it. What he disliked the most was the openness of it all because of course the reality of it was they were all in little rooms.
Robyn Slovo : But we were very accurate about all the details; like the letterheads, trolleys, things on the desks and paraphernalia. We interviewed [John Le Carré] extensively and the Art Department would continuously check things for their veracity.
Maria Djurkovic : If there was a spy stuff related questions, he was amazing and we could contact him.
Tim Bevan : One of the brilliant things about the Art Department on Tinker Tailor was that because we were up in North London we had a lot of space and the Art Department had a gigantic room, 3, 4 or 5 times the size of this screening room. And the very first things Maria did was get oodles of visual references and plastered all the walls full of them and that was a fantastic help to the whole film because everyone got absorbed in it.
Anwar Brett : Maria, one of the things that caught my eye in the production material we received, was the brilliantly simple – the glass blocks that the spies would have had. Can you tell us about that?
Oh absolutely, that is the kind of detail that John Le Carré was giving us that was great stuff to recreate.
Everyone used glass blocks on their desk so when they wrote there wasn’t an imprint left from their Biro on the desk. Or at the end of the day desk drawers were left open and had to be empty. Bins were put on top of desks. It was all about everything being very clean and nothing being able to be hidden.
And folders people carried around folders with enormous great red graphics stamped on them so it was as clear as it could possibly be. He gave us lots of those sort of details.
Peter Straughan : Talking to the cast, I remember Colin [Firth] saying that he felt with regards to the direction - you know what we walked onto the set and 50% of the direction was already there. Because you were suddenly in that world and that was the work that Maria had done and they all felt that way. The physically embodiment had been brilliantly recreated.
Tim Bevan : ... and Jacqueline Durran as the costumes are absolutely magnificent
in the film are brilliant it is very, very difficult to make suits look different and she did it in an absolutely beautiful way.
PRODUCER TIM BEVAN ON THE PRESSURES OF MAKING AN INTELLIGENT FILM THAT IS PROFITABLE
Peter touched on this earlier in that you would walk away if there were car chases but Tim given the pressure to make something that is a money spinner and given the number of films coming out in the spy genre that are filled with car chases and action. Was there any point that you felt pressure to follow suite?
No. To be honest. I l always felt that I loved the book and I knew that a lot people over 40 that had read or grown up with the book and had not seen the Television series for probably 20 years. And out of that there was a core audience and I also felt that it would be very interesting to take a look at the Cold War being twenty years from it.
And most importantly with Tinker Tailor and if you are doing an adaptation of any book, because this is what you are really looking, in fact if you are making any movie this is what you are looking for – there is the most amazing subtext with Tinker Tailor.
It could be a film about anything but actually what it is about is - men betraying men and that is laid very bare in the movie, and laid very bare in the brilliant screenplay that Peter wrote and when you got hold of that – those are the very best movies. Where you have a very clear raised story which is the spy story, but then this underlying layer of men betraying each other played by an amazing group of actors.
Also we’ve been told a lot in the last 2,3,4 years that you can’t make that sort of movie or do this or that. When film sales took a dive in 2008 and you are told that no one would go see serious cinema anymore. You just think that complete bull because they were up until last week so why would they suddenly stop doing it now? There is an audience out there who really want to go to films that make them think a little bit and this felt like that sort of film. And I always had confidence in that.
WRITER PETER STRAUGHAN ON THE PROCESS OF ADAPTING A COMPLEX STORY FOR SCREEN
Could you tell us a little bit about the writing process? I didn’t see the original series and found the film difficult to follow the first time I saw, now that I have read the book my second viewing was easier as I had more detail to hang onto. But the book is complex and there is so much in there, how do wean out what will make a movie?
Well I suppose there are three elements to it.
1. It is a complex book and we were allowed from the beginning to go with that because I think that is part of the joy of the book in a way that you are dropped into a maze that Smiley is going through, and will lead you through. And there was never any pressure to over simplify it and that would always be part of the texture of the film at least at plot level there would be great complexity.
2. Because of that we always thought there needed to be an emotional spine that was compelling to help get you through it [the maze], so we felt early on that we wanted to explore the human cost of the Cold War and the personal price paid by the individuals involved, sometimes in the personal lives of the Cold War Warriors. So we always tried to refer to that most of the decisions we made that veered away from the book, often after talking to Le Carré were guided by that. So [Major Spoiler] a lot of those sorts of decisions were about trying to draw it back to the human individual and away from a dry intellectual puzzle.
3. After that it was a matter of reduction and boiling down a very complex plot, sometimes having to collapse characters together, sometimes having to deal with things that were a large part of the book in a fairly brief way. But because it is such a good novel and because it is so layered it lends itself to the kind of poetry that film can pull off and that is what we tried to do. The television adaptation was a brilliant adaptation and very faithful adaptation to the book and we knew that we couldn’t redo the whole thing again so we tried to the poem of the book, something that was vivid and intense without necessarily delivering the entire plot.
WRITER PETER STRAUGHAN ON HIDDEN EASTER EGGS THAT THE AUDIENCE MAY NOT UNCOVER AND THE HARRY POTTER SPECULATION
Craig Grobler: With the DVD release of Tinker Tailor coming up I was wondering if you could let us know of any hidden Easter Eggs or references that we may never uncover even with the Directors commentary?
Recently I find out that Tomas has put in a lot of private Swedish jokes which I had no idea about. He told me there are lots of them but won’t tell me what they are - the only one I know about it that the music that is playing in at the beginning in Control’s flat when Prideaux visits him is actually a famous Swedish Tenor*
The song is Land Du Välsignade (Country, you are blessed or Blessed Country) by Jussi Bjorling. See further down for more information.But hopefully everything else was there to be communicated rather than buried.
Was there more to the Jim Prideux episode with the round glasses schoolboy and the owl?
There has been a lot made of the owl I keep reading interesting interpretations online. It sort of reminds you of something Tomas said right from the beginning that he likes film to be a dialogue. But it isn’t something I or Bridget thought about when writing that scene as it is in the book that an owl comes down the fireplace in the classroom and Prideaux breaks his neck making the pupils see him differently. That is all that scene came from. But I have read some fantastic symbolic interpretations of it, and I don’t say that dismissively I think that is so dear about film or art really is that the audience bring something to it as well.
Robyn Slovo : And you should know that the Art Department’s gift to Tomas was that stuffed owl that is now in his flat.
*Johan Jonatan "Jussi" Björling (5 February 1911 – 9 September 1960) was a Swedish tenor. One of the leading operatic singers of the 20th Century, Björling appeared for many years at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and less frequently at the major European opera houses, including the Royal Opera House in London and La Scala in Milan. – From Wiki
Blessed Country) by Jussi Bjorling
Country, you are blessed, take my song!
Cast your spirit in the words!
Grant that the sounds made perfect again,
Song of the country in Scandinavia,
Song of sjumila forests and lakes,
Plains, which yields us carry,
Midnight sun and midvintersnö,
Sweden to honor, Sweden!
Country, you are blessed, while my work!
Thee my quest I Vige!
Signature my mind and arm strengthening;
mainly among the best I rise,
that when my career I have had ended,
fallen into the shadows Dutch,
pride may be remembered, that I was Swedish,
Sweden to honor, Sweden!
PRODUCER TIM BEVAN ON THE CASTING OF GARY OLDMAN AS GEORGE SMILEY
Anwar Brett : One of the legacies of the television series was that everyone’s idea of Smiley was Alec Guinness now it is Gary Oldman. Who takes credit for that choice?
I think in fairness it should go to Jina Jay the Casting Director. When we were first talking about who may play Smiley all the actors we were considering were at least a decade older.
Jina brought up Gary, we looked into it and once Tomas looked at his work and it became a no brainer after that to be quite honest. One of Tomas’s idiosyncrasies is that he doesn’t cast people because they are humans he casts them because they are animals. Basically - if George Smiley was an animal what would it be? And I guess Gary reminds him of those traits.
But once we got Gary in the movie it was one of those magical things for Producers – which is when you have a Director who is hot and every actor in the world had seen Let The Right One In and thought that this guy was uber cool and you had a piece of material that everyone knew about and you had Gary Oldman in the movie. The rest of the cast was done and dusted.
In fact Tomas met every other person that he cast without telling them what part he had in mind for them and kept an open mind about who they might play.
Robyn Slovo : As acknowledged by Gary it was an enormous deal to take on this role inhabited by Alec Guinness and I have heard him say in other QAs that in the first couple of days in he wanted to get on a plane and fly back to America. It is a hard act to follow and very brave thing to do.
Tim Bevan : Then he met John Le Carré and imitated him and off we went.
PRODUCER TIM BEVAN ON THE STATUS OF A POSSIBLE TINKER TAILOR SEQUEL
After the session I was able to have a chat with Tim Bevan and enquired about the status of a sequel now that Tinker Tailor had reached America. Obviously reluctant to give away much at this early stage but he did let us know:
“Smiley’s People is now a distinct possibility. “He is not giving away much about the exact state of play other than it looking good for a sequel and it is going to be Smiley’s People.
In Smiley's People is a spy novel by John le Carré, published in 1979. Featuring British master-spy George Smiley, it is the third and final novel of the "Karla Trilogy", following Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy.
George Smiley is called out from retirement for the last time to investigate the death of one of his old agents, a former Soviet General, titular head of an Estonian émigré organization based in London.
Smiley learns the General had discovered information that leads to a final confrontation with George Smiley's nemesis, the Soviet spy-master Karla. – From wiki.
Special thanks to Anwar Brett for not only hosting the QA but supplying me with his audio from the session to supplement my own. You can visit Anwar's site over here: http://anwarbrett.com/
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will be released on DVD, Steelbook Double Play & Deluxe Edition: January 30th, 2012
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is based on the John Le Carré Cold War spy novel. Set in the 1970s, George Smiley a recently retired MI6 agent, is doing his best to adjust to a life outside the secret service. However, when a disgraced agent reappears with information concerning a mole at the heart of the Circus, Smiley is drawn back into the murky field of espionage.
- Commentary with Director Tomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman
- John Le Carré Interview
- Deleted Scenes
- Cast and Crew Interviews
- Deleted Scenes
- UK Premiere Featurrette
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Sky Movies Special
- Photo Gallery
- Chapters from the George Smiley Audio book series: The Hounourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People